25 August 2011

Women Holding the Line

What is a woman’s life worth in today’s economy? The price of a pap smear? Savings from cuts to HIV/AIDS programs? Unfortunately, policymakers across the country seem to be bartering in just this way with women’s lives.

Over the past year government has cut essential social services at all levels, denied women access to reproductive health, and laid off huge numbers of workers in female-dominated sectors in the name of austerity and deficit reduction. The specter of debt has been used time and again to attack women’s lives. Funding cuts to programs that help families have the potential to set women’s progress back decades, and make it nearly impossible for low-income women and their children to get a leg up in our economy.

Our grantee partners tell us how deeply cuts to social services affect women on the ground who are trying to survive in these uncertain times. As Attica Scott, coordinator of Kentucky Jobs with Justice, explains “today, 814,000 Kentuckians participate in the federal food stamp program; more than 1,000 homes face foreclosure in our state every month; and 576,500 Kentuckians lack health insurance.”

Our 2011 Community Voices on the Economy poll showed that Kentucky is not alone. The economic recovery never reached these women and families in Kentucky and it completely by-passed millions of other women nationwide. Rather than experiencing a real “recovery,” our economy is now in a “womancession.” Today, this already unstable foundation is being rocked by significant cuts to programs that sustain communities through tough times, helping to ensure their ability to recover, and hopefully, one day, to thrive.

Despite this dismal picture, however, there is reason for hope. Across the country, women are standing up for themselves, their families, and their communities, demanding that their voices be heard and advancing policies that protect their most basic rights.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance and Mujeres Unidas y Activas are working together with groups throughout California to fight for labor protections for the state’s more than 200,000 domestic workers. Family Values @ Work, a coalition of organizations working to make paid sick leave a universal labor right passed the first-ever state paid sick days legislation in Connecticut earlier this summer. And most recently, groups like Raising Women’s Voices convinced the Department of Health and Human Services to mandate preventive health services for women, including contraception, be covered by insurance without co-pays or deductibles as the new health reform legislation is enacted.

So while the rights and well-being of women and families are under attack in Washington and statehouses nationwide, let's not forget that strong women are holding the line. Against all odds, women are igniting change, standing up for the values of equity and inclusion, and the urgent needs of the most marginalized. The more we can share their stories of strength and power, hope and inspiration, the better equipped we will all be to defend our rights in the years to come.

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival

See this post on the MomsRising blog and read the rest of the #HERvotes commentary.

Photo: Elizabeth Rappaport - Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance

15 August 2011

'Gloria: In Her Own Words' HBO Documentary Debuts Tonight

We all know that Gloria Steinem has had a huge impact on feminism and the women's and broader social justice movements. But how many know how she became committed to advancing women's collective power to ignite social change? The HBO documentary, Gloria: In Her Own Words, which premieres tonight, Monday, August 15, tells this personal story.

Gloria began her career as a journalist, uncovering stories about inequities faced by women and communities across the country. She quickly realized that these issues had to be addressed by more than just words, they had to be addressed by action -- by a movement for social justice driven by women who faced these problems in their daily lives. 

For almost 40 years the Ms. Foundation for Women has been an integral part of this vision for change. We were founded by Gloria and others to help seed and sustain this movement by supporting women's grassroots organizing for social change across the US. You can take a stand for women making a difference with your donation to the Ms. Foundation.

Today, as we stand with Gloria and take stock of our history, we are proud to see how far we have come, even as we continue to confront challenges today. As Gloria says, "In a general way the system is still crazy. But thanks to social justice movements, and years of hard work, there has been positive change."

Gloria Steinem has endured as a feminist icon, withstanding decades of right-wing opposition to remain an outspoken advocate for women's rights and social justice. Watch Gloria: In Her Own Words to see an intimate portrait of this work and explore the formation of this tremendous movement that today we can all call our own.

Learn more about show times, the film and related resources.

10 August 2011

[Video] Meet Today's Help: Domestic Workers Continue Fight for Rights

Ms. Foundation grantee the National Domestic Workers Alliance calls our attention to domestic workers today as the movie The Help opens in theaters nationwide. The movie tells a story of women organizing 50 years ago for dignity and respect in Civil Rights-era Mississippi.
Fifty years later domestic workers are still an unprotected sector of the labor force, without access to basic rights other workers take for granted. Far too few domestic workers receive overtime pay, meal and rest breaks, sick leave or paid vacation. And far too many of them work for less than minimum wage.

Join with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to support the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

01 August 2011

Historic Recommendations on Women's Preventive Health Become Law

Amidst all of the terrifically depressing drivel around the debt ceiling, a ray of sunshine has broken through. Today, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, accepted the Institute of Medicine recommendations that key preventive health services for women, including contraception, be covered by insurance without co-pays or deductibles. As we wrote last week, this is a truly historic moment. Most notably, millions of women will now have greater access to the full range of FDA-approved birth control options. The new provisions could also be especially helpful in reducing health disparities across race and class, and very importantly, health care reform will now include a comprehensive, evidence-based framework for women's preventive health, and reflect the fundamental concept that women's health care is basic health care, and should not be subject to extra costs.

Once again, congratulations to our grantees, including Raising Women's Voices, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, the National Women's Law Center, Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and West Virginia Free, who informed the Institute of Medicine's recommendations, advocated for Secretary Sebelius to accept them as law, and before and since the passage of health care reform, have worked tirelessly to bring health and justice to women, families and communities nationwide.

Weekly Round-Up: Grantees Making Waves Nationwide

We love starting the week off with great news! This morning the Department of Health and Human Services accepted the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine that contraception, and other key women's preventive health services, be covered by insurance without co-pays or deductibles. This groundbreaking decision paves the way for millions of women to access the full range of FDA-approved contraception under health care reform, and creates a critical evidence-based framework to advance the concept that women's health care is basic health care. Congratulations to the many organizations -- Raising Women’s Voices, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, and the National Women’s Law Center to name a few -- that worked to inform the report, providing research and testimony, and continue to advocate to make health care reform a reality for women across the country. Read Raising Women’s Voices’ op-ed published in the South Coast Today. Check out what we at the Ms. Foundation had to say about this just last week!

And now for the bad news: President Obama and congressional leaders appear to have reached a deal to raise the debt-ceiling that includes deep cuts to social programs that will hit women and families the hardest. The National Women's Law Center issued a response, writing: "The deal would cut domestic discretionary programs – programs such as Head Start, K-12 education, Title X family planning, job training, domestic violence prevention, meals-on-wheels and other services for vulnerable people – by hundreds of billions of dollars but not touch a penny of the tax breaks enjoyed by millionaires and corporations." 

On Thursday July 28th, Service Women's Action Network participated in an historic panel hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Women in the Military. The newly-formed caucus has devoted its attention to two issues of highest priority to SWAN: revoking the Combat Exclusion Policy and ending Military Sexual Violence.

CEOs to workers: More for me, less for you, an op-ed on wage disparities and the minimum wage by Holly Sklar of Let Justice Roll (and co-author with Ms. Foundation COO Susan Wefald of Raise the Floor), was published in McClatchy DC.

The Louisiana Bucket Brigade has launched its first canvassing project since Hurricane Katrina devastated its offices and displaced community members and staff six years ago. Matthew Kern, LABB’s new canvass director, discusses this final step towards recovery from the storms, explaining that they'll once again be able to "go out every day, rain, heat or shine, knock on doors and talk to people about issues they would have probably never have been exposed to any other way.” Read Kern’s full blog post.

The Institute for Women's Policy Research released a report, Ending Sex and Race Discrimination in the Workplace: Legal Interventions That Push the Envelope. The report examines how legal remedies have been used to address sexual harassment since the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson case in which the United States Supreme Court ruled for the first time that sexual harassment constitutes unlawful sex discrimination.

The Women of Color Policy Network released a report on state-level legislative and policy activity relating to economic security, immigration reform, and reproductive rights and what they mean for women of color, their families, and communities. The brief, State Legislative Roundup for 2011, provides an overview of state-level wins and losses.

On July 11, the National Partnership for Women and Families and Family Values @ Work organized more than 200 paid sick days activists for the 2011 National Summit on Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave. Advocates, policy experts, workers and business leaders from 23 states and the District of Columbia gathered to discuss the movement to secure paid sick days and paid family leave taking root nationwide, and met with their members of Congress and urge them to support the Healthy Families Act. Watch a photo slideshow and a short video that chronicles one woman’s “day of action” on Capitol Hill. Read a blog post.

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum announced that "Reproductive Health Disparities: Pap Knowledge and Screening Rates among Asian Pacific Islander College Women," the latest research from their California Young Women's Collaborative, produced by Asian Pacific Islander students from CSU-Fullerton, was published in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion. Check it out!

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance joined over 200 organizations around the country to call for a halt to the controversial "Secure Communities" program and protest the inadequacies of proposed oversight strategies. In a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, civil and immigrants rights organizations, faith leaders, and law enforcement officials denounced the Department of Homeland Security's newly-established advisory committee, which was established without public input, is devoid of transparency or accountability, and does not include immigrant community members.

Events and Opportunities

The 2nd Annual Latina Week of Action for Reproductive Justice starts today! The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health California Latinas for Reproductive Justice and Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights are partnering around the theme, Caminamos: Justice for Immigrant Women. The week of action will engage people in advocating for immigrant women's rights and re-centering gender in the immigration dialogue.

The Jobs with Justice National Conference is just a few weeks away! Some program highlights include sessions like Stop the War on Workers; Workers Unite to Turn the Tide on Immigration Enforcement; and Caring Across Generations. Register and learn more.